Will Bueché

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Boulder is losing BartsCDs

Posted in Music by Will on Tuesday, December 15th, 2009 ~ 6pm

About BartsCDs sudden closing announcement (the staff only learned of it last night, and signs arrived today), I’ve overheard that the consortium that owns it and a few other indie CD stores has an immediate debt due, and so they chose to sell their Boulder location even though Barts is one of their top-performing stores. Manager Jeff said he could understand the decision if Barts was losing money, but it was not. “The kids,” he said in apparent reference to the excellent clerks, “are devastated.” As are adults like myself who frequented Barts nearly every week and never left unsatisfied.

Barts was a shining light on Boulder’s Pearl Street pedestrian mall (actually a few stores past the bricked part of the street), and I enjoyed walking from my office three blocks down to Barts, for the fresh air and the chance to stretch my legs in addition to the promise of new music.

I’ve seen the best CD stores — I’ve seen Newbury Comics in New England, with its mix of new and used CDs, vinyl, dvd, action figures and rubber duckies and so forth, and I was so pleased on arriving in Boulder three years ago to find that a local store was outshining Newbury Comics in all these respects.

The college educated population of Boulder kept the used CD aisle — my favored area — flowing with new and varied material, allowing weekly visits to be new experiences. As I told the manager today, I built up more of my music collection over the last three years at Barts than anywhere else. Not stated but implied was that I found more at Barts than I found at Amazon.com, Half/eBay.com, and GoHastings.com included, though I would search all of those sources for deals, of course. Most often, after the price of shipping, a used CD at Barts was the same as any of those online sources for used CDs. And unlike online stores, whose supply seems neverending, the presence of a wanted used disc turning up at Barts was a much-welcomed prompt for me to buy it right then, since the good taste of Boulder’s populace meant that the desired title would surely be gone if I waited even a week to mull it over (a lesson I learned).

Some people (a few) didn’t like Barts. Too shiny, perhaps. Too clean and carpeted. Those who disliked Barts went to Albums on the Hill — now the only remaining used CD store in Boulder. Located in a claustrophobic and cluttered basement-level with a cement floor, it was one source I never used. If I were asked to draw a floor plan of Albums on the Hill, I can’t imagine what I’d draw to represent the middle of the store, since my visual impression when visiting was that some sort of disaster had unfolded in the middle — the kind of disaster one cannot help but to turn away from as a protective measure against trauma.

Needless to say, BartsCDs was my store, and I won’t be taking any steps down to the competition. It will be online-only for me from this point forward. And I am sorry for my loss, and for Boulder’s loss, and for the employees who were always wide-eyed and eager to share their advice and guidance.

UPDATE: I’ve sent my plea (to reconsider) just now to Mr. Tom Thirkell, Co-Founder and Chief Financial Officer of Value Music Concepts, Inc., which owns Barts and a few other indie CD stores. I believe his address is: tomt@vcei.com

I am not sure why the decision was made, and I don’t expect we’ll ever know. But if it is true that Barts was making a profit, then perhaps they will reconsider if we ask nicely and share our affection for the store. My plea went something like this:

I can’t imagine that Barts was doing badly, as people were always in the aisles, and I was always overhearing people remarking with pleasure to each other about their finds. Perhaps you are closing while you’re ahead, convinced that iTunes will dominate the world. But if you are still in the physical retail world, then you should not be closing Barts. On the contrary. Barts should be a model for your other stores, an example of how to do it right, of how everything can come together perfectly — location, population, management and sheer style and selection of merchandise — to make the perfect CD+more store. I admit I buy some songs from iTunes myself. But more often, I sample music online and then I go into Barts and buy the CD.

Online and nonline co-exist for me in Boulder thanks to Barts, and I believe they coexist for others as well — many others, as the crowds of well-wishers who rushed to the store today as the bad news made the online newspapers can attest.

Boulder, known as an oasis of good taste in the middle of a cultural wasteland, will not be the same without Barts. Barts will not be forgotten. There are simply far too many people here who have Barts to thank for their music collections for it to be otherwise.


And I posted the following elsewhere. I’ll edit it since it repeats some of what I said above.

I thought you guys would understand how I feel today: My local CD store is closing. And they were not even doing badly! They were making a profit, but their financial backing, really the consortium that owns them, seems to be cutting out while they’re ahead.

I found out today while at work. I’d noticed that no newsletter/coupon had arrived yesterday, but I figured maybe last week’s coupon had just been too good and they were cutting back. Then I went to the local newspaper website and that’s when I saw that “according to signs posted in the windows this morning, BartsCDs is closing”.

I said “shit” and threw on my jacket. There were people coming in as they heard the news, though if it wasn’t for the exclamations of sadness and surprise it may have been like any other day, since they always had a good amount of people coming in. It’s a college and college educated town, and it was on the edge of an outdoor bricked “pedestrian mall” (a historic street, bricked over to encourage foot traffic and restaurants and such). It never failed to do business.

I bought more there in the past three years than I had from any other store. My area was the used CD aisle. Always there, once a week, and always new (used) arrivals to make each visit special. Always finding something for $5.99 (my sweet spot) or maybe $7.99. Really diverse selection of used CDs. Some new stuff was priced well enough if on sale.

I’d spend the night before surfing the web, sampling artists, and then I’d have the cover art in mind (and hopefully the artist names, if I could remember them!) and peel through the physical store the next day, A to Z or Z to A just to mix it up. A couple diversion trips into the “new” aisles to check regular retail prices or compare different editions. Their new aisles had a nice (well informed) electronica selection, too.

Online and nonline complemented each other perfectly, thanks to BartsCDs. I will really miss them. Really really miss them.

I bought $30 more from them today…not really committed to the 50% used / 30% new sale yet, still hoping the consortium would change their mind. Not wanting their inventory to become depleted. But still wanting to show my support. So I got three used and one new …and by chance they had that Ulrich Schnauss I’d always been looking for… the title not un-dramatically being “Goodbye”.

UPDATE: One final comment, posted in response to an article in Boulder Weekly:

Used CD stores have a good chance of staying in business for awhile longer, until the day when iTunes starts selling lossless downloads. The moment that happens, physical music stores are done for.

Physical stores can only survive during the next few years if they have an exceptionally high intake of used CDs, and a corresponding high outlay of them to customers. Bart’s was a model of that successful dynamic, thanks to an ideal location and an excellent population

But banks can shut down even successful businesses when they feel there’s no future for them. Maybe the bank that called in the loan that caused Bart’s to close was correct in its judgement of the future.

There is simply no way to predict when iTunes (or Amazon) will start selling lossless music. It is all up to Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos.

I already miss the experience of seeing what new used CDs my fellow Boulderites had turned in. Bart’s closed on Valentine’s Day. I haven’t yet gotten over that relationship to deign step into the messy cellar of Albums On a Hill. Maybe I just don’t want to start a new relationship with a store, knowing that it too won’t last.

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